For Latinos, No Big Deal if Next Mayor Doesn’t Speak Spanish

Despite his terrible accent, Mayor Bloomberg has made Spanish fashionable in City Hall. (Photo by Simone D. McCourtie/World Bank, Flickr Creative Commons License)

Despite his terrible accent, Mayor Bloomberg put Spanish in vogue in City Hall. (Photo by Simone D. McCourtie/World Bank, Flickr Creative Commons License)

Whether people like him or not, no one can deny that Mayor Michael Bloomberg made Spanish fashionable in City Hall.

Now that Bloomberg’s last term in office is coming to an end, who out of his possible successors will be able to inform – and make laugh – nearly 2 million Spanish speakers in their native language?

If becoming proficient in the language of Cervantes is enough to win the race, then Independent candidate Adolfo Carrión and Democrat Erick Salgado would have an advantage because they speak it fluently. However, what about their non-Hispanic opponents?

Out of the more than 260 people who responded to a survey on facebook.com/eldiariony, some of them favored having a bilingual mayor though it is not a priority.

“It would be nice, but up until now we haven’t had any and the community has survived,” said Rosaura Bernard, a student.

But the majority rejected the idea.

“I think the need for a Spanish-speaking mayor is a weakness in our community. If a Chinese person and an Indian person come here, they learn English. Why shouldn’t a Latino?” argued Onix Navarro, also a student.

Non Latino Mayoral Candidates on Speaking Spanish

Sal Albanese – The Democrat said his Spanish is not as fluent as it should be, although he represented Sunset Park as a councilman until 1998. “The majority of my voters were Puerto Rican and almost all of them spoke English, that’s why it was never a problem, but now it’s different,” said the Italy-born politician. Albanese is intent on improving his command of Spanish to be able to speak it in the future, although “I am not as rich” as Bloomberg, he said.

Bill de Blasio – “You should be mayor of everyone, regardless the language they speak,” said de Blasio in perfect Spanish, which he learned during his postgraduate in international relations at Columbia University. Apart from his Latin-American studies, the Democrat was an activist in Nicaragua during the Sandinista rebellion in the 1980s.

John Catsimatidis – He doesn’t plan to hire a teacher although certainly not for lack of funds. The multimillionaire businessman said: “I know firsthand what it means to speak English as a second language.” He was born in Greece and arrived to the U.S. as a child. As for Spanish, the owner of the supermarket chain Gristedes added: “I can communicate a little bit with my clients,” and mentions that almost half of his workers are Hispanics.

Joe Lhota – Republican Joe Lhota said he hasn’t thought if he would do the same as Bloomberg if he becomes mayor, but pointed out that he did something similar as chief of the MTA. “I had one person, part of the staff, presenting conferences in Spanish,” he said. Although he recognized he has forgotten much of the Spanish he learned in high school, he said “I do have good pronunciation.”

John Liu – The Democrat said he is more fluent in Spanish than in his parent’s tongue. “I studied Spanish in the New York public school system,” he said in good Spanish. But, “unfortunately, my Chinese is limited to what I learned when I was one year old in Taiwan,” he added, in English. Liu frequently jokes about the nicknames bestowed on him by Puerto Ricans and Dominicans in the city: “They know me as the ‘Chinorican,’ and in Upper Manhattan they call me “the Chinese from Bonao,” [a Dominican town which boasts a sizable Chinese population].

George McDonald – The Republican didn’t agree to be interviewed but sent a statement in which he confesses that “unfortunately, English is my first and second language.” In the text, he professed a “great respect” for people like Mayor Bloomberg and [former] Gov. Pataki. “As a mayor, I will follow his example.”

Bill Thompson and Christine Quinn – The two Democrats were the only candidates interviewed who did not dare improvise some words in Spanish, saying that they need more practice. Former Comptroller Thompson said he has gotten some tutoring and is hoping to improve his Spanish skills. But City Council Speaker Quinn said that learning foreign languages “is not my strong point.”

Anthony Weiner – Although he didn’t concede an interview, the latest Democrat to join the race is famous for his sentences in Spanish. During his campaign launch he was heard telling his Spanish-speaking followers: “Education is really important.”


Bloomberg Will Keep Taking Spanish Lessons

Although Mayor Bloomberg’s last term in office is ending, he won’t stop taking Spanish lessons.

He will continue “until he speaks like a native,” said Luis Cardozo, who has been tutoring the mayor of New York for more than a decade.

The Colombian tutor confessed that he often worries about the criticism of Bloomberg’s language skills, especially by “El Bloombito,” the famous parody character on Twitter who makes fun of the mayor’s idiomatic blunders (see more “El Bloombito” tweets at eldiariony.com).

“Such comments usually come from people who don’t know Spanish,” Cardozo added, which is why he has learned to ignore them.

In his opinion, Bloomberg’s Spanish is very solid. The best test, he said, was when Bloomberg met with the mayor of Asunción, Paraguay at the beginning of May.

“The entire meeting happened in Spanish,” he said.

Bloomberg has class for an hour and a half each day to develop his speaking skills.

“El Diario is one of the newspapers we use the most. He gets it delivered to his house and he’s always waiting for me with a question about something he didn’t understand,” Cardozo said.

Out of the current mayoral candidates, only Christine Quinn requested Cardozo’s services, he recalled.

“But she changed her mind,” because he was not called again, said the teacher.

English-only – Even though 23% of the city’s eligible voters are Latinos, only two out of 10 candidates seeking to succeed Bloomberg offer information in Spanish on their campaign websites.

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